• Seven Suspects Identified in Mexico Massacre

    September 7, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Seven individuals were identified by Mexican authorities on Monday as suspects in the massacre of 72 migrants in northern Mexico, whose bodies were discovered during a raid on August 24. Three of the suspects were killed by navy personnel during the raid, while another three were found dead near a highway shortly thereafter. All suspects, including a seventh that was arrested last week are believed to be part of Los Zetas drug cartel and were identified by one of the three massacre survivors.

    The bodies of the 72 mostly Honduran, Salvadorian and Ecuadorian migrants were discovered in the town of San Fernando in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas on the Texas border. As of Tuesday, 27 victims had been identified and are being repatriated to their home countries.

    The massacre is the latest example of drug-related in northern Mexican states along the U.S. border. According to Alejandro Poiré, the government spokesman for security issues, the mass-murder “confirms that criminal organizations are looking to kidnapping and extortion because they are going through a difficult time obtaining resources and recruiting people willingly.”

    Mr. Poiré’s comments come less than a week after the U.S. government announced it would withhold about $26 million in funding to Mexico’s anti-narcotics efforts over concerns that Mexico has not done enough to protect its people from cartel and police abuse.

    Tags: Mexico, Immigration, Drug war, Massacre, Raid

  • Venezuelan Hunger Striker Dies

    September 2, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Franklin Brito, a farmer in the southern Venezuelan state of Bolivar, died Monday night while protesting the government sanctioned takeover of his farm in 2000 under President Hugo Chávez’s land reform policies.  Mr. Brito had failed to regain his land from the government for the past decade despite numerous appeals and several previous hunger strikes that began in 2005.  Mr. Brito passed away in a military hospital where he had been forcibly interned for his own safety, according to government officials.

    Brito’s claims had initially garnered the support of Chávez who publicly supported him and called for government officials to rectify the situation.  However, the government made no further attempts to satisfy Brito’s land dispute.  Eventually, the government turned against Brito and accused him of having mental health problems. Venezuela’s minister for agriculture and land, Juan Carlos Loyo, stated publicly that Mr. Brito was being used by opponents of Hugo Chávez and his administration for political ends

    Brito had been placed in a medically induced coma last Friday to treat a respiratory condition, according to government sources, and also suffered from severe liver and kidney damage.  Authorities claim he collapsed and that attempts were made to revive him before he was pronounced dead at 9 p.m. on Monday evening. 

    Tags: Venezuela, Hunger Strike, land policy, Franklin Brito, protest

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    September 1, 2010

    by AS-COA Online

    From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Drug Lord La Barbie Captured in Mexico

    After a 14-month operation, on Monday Mexican security forces captured U.S-born kingpin Édgar Valdez Villareal, better known as La Barbie for his fair appearance. Valdez, reputedly one of Mexico’s most violent cartel leaders, controlled the Beltrán-Leyva gang in the states of Morelos, Guerrero, State of Mexico, and Sinaloa. The branch of the cartel he oversaw is thought to be responsible for smuggling roughly a ton of cocaine into the United States each month. Alejandro Poiré, Mexican security spokesman, declared the arrest as “a high impact strike against organized crime and an important step in the security strategy.” Valdez could be extradited to the United States, where he was indicted on drug trafficking charges. Also this week, the Colombian National Police arrested 11 people who served as liaisons between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and La Barbie’s gang.

    Read More


  • Hispanic Candidate Challenges Legislator Behind SB1070

    September 1, 2010

    by AQ Online

    The race for the seat of Arizona state senate Republican Russell Pearce, a key sponsor of the controversial immigration law SB1070, is heating up.  His newest opponent, Andrea Garcia, is a Latino woman running on the Libertarian Party ticket who is basing her campaign to unseat Pearce on his support of the controversial law. “My goal is to get Pearce out of the legislature. I believe the approval of state law SB1070 shows the damage his ideas can cause our communities,” says Garcia.

    Support for and opposition to SB1070 has become a major issue in this year’s state-wide elections in Arizona and has proven a polarizing topic pitting mostly Republican supporters of the law against all opponents, especially Democrats. However, by many indications, support for the law has helped candidates around the state including Governor Jan Brewer, who won the Republican primary with nearly 82 percent of votes cast. She now faces Democratic challenger Terry Goddard over whom she holds a significant lead.

    Garcia faces a formidable incumbent opponent with substantial financial backing and appears to understand that victory is a long shot. She says, however, “I hope that when [voters] realize that SB1070 has really done nothing to prevent undocumented immigration and that, on the contrary, it is hurting our communities, these people will change their minds.”

    State-led immigration enforcement has also been an important campaign topic in state elections in Minnesota, California, Florida, and elsewhere.

    Tags: Arizona, hispanics in U.S., Elections, SB1070, Jan Brewer, Senator Pearce, Andrea Garcia

  • Grassroots Efforts for Immigration Reform: Voices from Michigan, New York, and Colorado

    September 1, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Over the past several years, grassroots groups across the country have held mass marches, lobbied government officials and used civil disobedience to call for reform of the nation’s immigration system. As part of a continuing series of interviews on the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) and the pro-CIR movement, I interviewed grassroots leaders from Michigan, New York and Colorado to explore the strategies of—and challenges faced by—groups in different parts of the country:

    • Ponsella Hardaway is the Executive Director of Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES) in Michigan, a member of the Gamaliel Foundation's organizing network.
    • Andrew Friedman is the co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York
    • Julie Gonzales is an organizer at the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) and the Colorado State Director for the Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) campaign.

    MOSES, Make the Road, and CIRC have also signed on as member organizations of the broader Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) campaign to achieve national comprehensive immigration reform.

    Altschuler: How long has your organization been working on immigration issues, and how did it first get involved?

    Friedman: Make the Road has been working on this issue since its foundation in 1997 in the aftermath of unsuccessful national immigration reform and punitive welfare reform that targeted immigrants. Most of our initial organizing campaigns focused on local treatment of immigrants. Back in 2005-2006, it felt like there was some momentum emerging in the backlash to the Sensenbrenner bill [the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005]. That’s when we started to have substantive conversations about tactics and strategies for organizing committee meetings and participating in coalition work, both nationally and locally, on the issue. Since then, we’ve grown considerably, so this time around we were more active.

    Hardaway: MOSES has been working on the issue since the founding of our organization in 1997. One of our members, Holy Redeemer—probably the largest Latino congregation in the city—has been a part of MOSES since the beginning. Because of its involvement, we started out working on local neighborhood issues, like crime and the rise of gangs. Then, out of that, we began looking at the young people who were brought over as children—they didn’t necessarily see Mexico as their home, they went through the Detroit public school system, but they could not go to college without going back to Mexico and paying foreign rates for tuition. So our first big action, back in 2002, was around fighting for in-state tuition for undocumented students, so that they could at least go to college.

    Altschuler: What has your organization learned from the last failed effort for immigration reform in 2007?  How, if at all, are you approaching the current effort differently?

    Friedman: After 2007, we had considerable work to do with our allies—strong institutional allies like labor unions, nationally powerful Democrats—as well as with folks who were not necessarily with us on the issue. We came out of that thinking a couple of things: one, we really needed to build our political sophistication and muscle and two, we needed to ensure there wouldn’t be a split between the AFL-CIO and Change to Win—two major union partners—on the substance of the legislation.

    This time, we were just positioned differently. Our representative in Congress [Nydia Velázquez] was the head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Senator Schumer was the third highest-ranking Democrat. So we have been working more on local actions and local relationships to make an impact on the national struggle.

    Hardaway: The biggest struggle in our organization was developing a relationship [with non-immigrant groups on this issue]. In 2007 we aggressively moved to immigration reform without building a strong multi-racial base. There were many African-Americans in our organization who didn’t understand—especially when we used the term ‘civil rights’ of immigrants. African-Americans said, ‘We’ve been fighting for civil rights for a long time. Why is this important for us [if we haven’t won our fight yet]?’  It’s important to have the conversation about how immigration impacts everyone and how we can find common ground around what’s being done to minorities in general in this country and the government’s role in that.

    One of the things that MOSES did do was take on racial profiling. We got together as an organization and discussed racial profiling, working towards an ordinance in Detroit. We also got together around affirmative action, which was a big issue in Michigan. That was where we got a multi-racial coalition. It didn’t focus necessarily on immigration reform, but it took up the common things that affected us all. And then [in 2007-2008] we had some dialogue about immigration from a faith perspective, simultaneous to working aggressively on immigration reform.

    Gonzales: Our coalition [in Colorado] began in October of 2006. Everybody understood the fight, but for us, it didn’t feel like there was necessarily a way to plug in. We weren’t doing the day-to-day lobbying. We needed to find a way to engage the local communities, to make sure everyone could participate, including young people. With the DREAM Act effort of October, 2007, there was creative, new, engaging, exciting work in which people could become involved. We did things in Colorado—like lobby visits with State legislators in Spanish—that helped gear us up for the latest efforts. The RIFA campaign [is focused on] trying to marry those two worlds of political lobbying and grassroots organizing. We don’t have everything figured out, but we’re doing better.

    Read More

    Tags: Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength, Make the Road New York, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, Reform Immigration for America

  • Official Claims Venezuelan Military Armed FARC

    August 31, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Carlos Molina Tamayo, former national security advisor to President Hugo Chávez, told Miami’s El Nuevo Herald today that the Venezuelan military has, in the past, supplied arms to the Colombian Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). According to Tamayo, former Minister of the Interior Ramon Rodriguez Chacin asked him to help send rifles to the FARC, when he was in charge of the Venezuelan armed forces’ armory.

    Mr. Tamayo claims that Mr. Rodriguez Chacin asked him for 300 FAL rifles for an irregular operation and asked how they could be shipped out of Venezuela without being detected. Though Tamayo was never directly asked again to send more weapons, he claims that rifles, mortars and grenades and even anti-tank AT4 rockets would regularly “disappear” or were “stolen” from the Venezuelan caches.

    Tamayo’s on-the-record statements come only a month after former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe accused President Chávez of harboring 1,500 FARC guerrillas and funding the FARC movement in Colombia. Chávez responded by cutting all diplomatic ties with Colombia, raising the threat of a military clash along the countries’ shared 2,300km border. The tensions finally eased in mid-August when Juan Manuel Santos met with Chávez in the Colombian city of Santa Marta, shortly after succeeding Uribe.

    Tags: Colombia, Venezuela, Alvaro Uribe, FARC, Hugo Chavez, Juan Manuel Santos, Guerrilleras

  • Can anyone live on minimum wage in Mexico?

    August 30, 2010

    by Arjan Shahani

    In a quaint coffee shop in the heart of La Condesa  (one of Mexico City’s trendiest neighborhoods), Ana and Ricardo sit down and take a break from their jobs. One of them orders a shot of espresso, the other a soft drink and a muffin. Their bill exceeds 120 pesos ($9.10), excluding tip. After a while, they get up, pay and happily go on their way. 

    One block from the café another Mexican, Silvia, mops the floor of a local supermarket and earns minimum wage. A single mother of two she has to make ends meet with 345 pesos ($26.20) a week working six days.

    Her story is not an exception.  It is a reality shared by 12 percent of this country’s economically active population.  Another nine percent of our workers earn the sum of two minimum wages, 115 pesos ($8.74) daily.  This creates problems and challenges far greater than what these figures reflect.

    In the U.S., the minimum wage is set at $7.25 per hour. At 13 pesos to the dollar and an 8-hour workday, this means that a minimum wage employee in the US earns 13 times as much as one in Mexico. Does this tell you a little bit about the risks migrants are willing to face in order to illegally cross the border?

    Politicians in Mexico love to relate purchasing power to the price of the tortilla. At current rates, one minimum wage is the equivalent of 6 kilos of tortilla per day. This sounds like a lot (this is why they love to use this figure). I guess politicians expect us to live off of tortillas (and people wonder why our country has one of the worst obesity problems in the world). Unfortunately, though tortillas are cheap, nothing else on the shelf is. If Silvia pays a really low rent, she will blow the rest of her income when she goes to the  supermarket once a week and buys a box of cereal, a carton of milk, a couple of cans of food and a 2 liter bottle of her soft drink of choice. Not nearly enough to feed a family, let alone provide a balanced diet… Wait, don’t forget your tortillas!

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Tecnológico de Monterrey

  • Cuba Enacts Reforms to Bolster Foreign Investment

    August 30, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Cuban President Raúl Castro and the Cuban National Assembly last week issued two new decrees that analysts believe could prompt a new flood of foreign investment to the country. The new laws will permit foreign investors to lease government land for up to 99 years for tourism projects and loosen state controls on commerce in key agricultural sectors.

    "This is probably one of the most significant moves in recent years relative to attracting foreign investment," said Robin Conners, CEO of the Canadian firm, Leisure Canada, which is currently developing a number of hospitality-related projects on the island. A number of firms also want to build golf courses on the island—a stated priority of the Communist government.

    Others are more cautious. John Kavulich, a senior policy adviser for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council says it’s still way too early to herald a new Cuba and that the measures enacted last week are not likely to open a floodgate of investment. Rather, he says, "I think it may turn on a tap so that people know there's water."

    Tags: Raul Castro, Cuban National Assembly, John Kavulich

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    August 29, 2010

    by AS-COA Online

    From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Chile’s Miners Found, Long Rescue Mission Awaits

    Via a note that read the 33 of us in the shelter are well, miners trapped 2,300 feet underground in a private Chilean copper mine confirmed they were alive on Sunday. The men occupy a space the size of a small apartment and will receive food and medicine via tubes as well as oxygen. Despite the good news, the rescue mission will take at least three months. Financial Times reports that Chilean President Sebastian Piñera fired mining regulators and pledged to clean up the country’s mining agency.

    President Piñera will deliver remarks to Americas Society/Council of the Americas during a public program on September 22.

    Read More



    August 26, 2010

    by Liliana Colanzi

    Con Rodolfo Enrique Fogwill (1941-2010) se va uno de los grandes escritores malditos latinoamericanos. Sus relatos (pienso en “Muchacha Punk”, “Help a él” o “La larga risa de todos estos años”) fascinan por su intensidad, su inquietante lucidez, su extraña textura poética, cualidades capaces de sumir al lector en una especie de trance. Pero en Fogwill la obra es tan importante como el personaje. Irónico e irreverente hasta el final, se hizo famoso por sus cáusticos comentarios sobre sus contemporáneos—su rivalidad con Ricardo Piglia fue legendaria—y por sus opiniones políticamente incorrectas, que lo llevaron a pelearse con las madres de la Plaza de Mayo y a cuestionar la existencia de los campos de concentración nazis. Le gustaba salir en las fotos con cara de alucinado: los cabellos en todas direcciones, los ojos desorbitados, la lengua afuera y, en ocasiones, hasta desnudo. Fue conocido como un lector inagotable que siempre estuvo tomándole el pulso a las nuevas generaciones. Su generosidad con los jóvenes era extraordinaria: leía con atención los manuscritos de los escritores noveles y se encargaba de encontrarles editoriales que los publicaran.

    Lo conocí el 5 de agosto en Montevideo, en un evento literario organizado por la revista Eñe. Esa noche, durante la cena, destrozó a la mayoría de los escritores argentinos contemporáneos consagrados; en sus ataques no sólo se metía con la obra, sino también con la persona: acusaba a muchos de haberse corrompido por el mercado. En cambio, habló con entusiasmo de aquellos escritores con un perfil más alternativo, o quizás menos mediático: Diego Meret, Fabián Casas, Pablo Ramos, Carlos Busqued, Alejandro Rubio. También recordó las campañas de publicidad que hizo para varias marcas de cerveza en Bolivia (antes de darse a conocer como escritor fue un publicista de prestigio) y elogió el poemario Muerte por el tacto, de Jaime Saenz, a quien consideraba un poeta de primera línea. Pese al frío polar de esa noche, no le importó salir del restaurante para encender un cigarrillo en la calle; más tarde regresó para utilizar su inhalador. Cuando le pregunté si tenía asma, contestó con una sonrisa traviesa: “No, es enfisema pulmonar”. Creí que estaba siendo irónico...

    Read More

    Tags: Latin American Authors, Liliana Colanzi, Rodolfo Enrique Fogwill, Escritores Malditos

  • Rousseff Widens Lead in Brazil Election

    August 26, 2010

    by AQ Online

    The latest polls out of Brazil show presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff winning the support of 49 percent of voters polled, with a 20 percentage-point lead over her nearest challenger, former São Paulo governor José Serra, who trails behind with 29 percent. Green Party candidate Marina Silva lagged at 9 percent. A candidate in Brazil needs at least 50 percent to avoid a runoff and these newest results make a first-round win in the October 3 election increasingly likely.

    Ms. Rousseff received a major bump in name recognition and popularity after last week’s launch of her national television campaign, which included prime-time ad spots clearly linking her to ever-popular President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva.

    An outright win for Rousseff may give the one-time energy minister a mandate for her legislative agenda, which some believe will stay close to Lula’s playbook of a strong state combined with market-friendly practices. Some economic analysts however, say Rousseff could be considering a much bolder policy agenda, including budget cuts to allow for lower interest rates, limits to the growth of public spending and reforms to the tax code.

    The Datafolha poll was based on a nationwide sample of 10,948 people and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

    Tags: Dilma Rousseff, Brazil elections

  • The Rise and Fall of Political Parties in Peru

    August 25, 2010

    by Sabrina Karim

    For the last two election cycles in which Lourdes Flores has run for president, polls have always shown her with strong leads in the weeks before elections, but come election night, she has lost. This time she is running for mayor of Lima on the Partido Popular Cristiano political party ticket and it looks like the trend will continue. Recent revelations of her close ties to Cesar Castano, the owner of Peruvian Airlines, who is currently under suspicion of narco-trafficking, have caused her numbers to slide in the polls with the October elections fast approaching.

    While this could signal yet another political disappointment for Lourdes, it also raises questions about the strength of her political party affiliation and Peru’s political party system overall. Perhaps, this is because the formal institutionalization of political parties under the Peruvian legal system did not happen until 2003. But there is also simply a culture of informality with political parties here. Parties are often created every election cycle to fill a vacuum of political institutions and ideas, but they are not sustainable. They are created out of necessity during elections years to organize campaigns rather than built over the long-term, based on political ideas and platforms.

    Often, candidates in high profile races like Lima mayor or president form party alliances and then find candidates in the provinces and local areas to carry the name of the party bloc. After the election, the political party disappears only to be resurrected using the same name or another name in the next election cycle. Also common: political parties field candidates only at the municipal level and do not have national candidates or they are only national and struggle to find municipal candidates.

    Read More

    Tags: Lourdes Flores, Partido Popular Cristiano, Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana

  • Canada Intercepts Russian Bombers

    August 25, 2010

    by AQ Online

    The Canadian government revealed this morning that Canadian fighter jets were scrambled to intercept two Russian bombers approaching Canadian airspace near its Northwest Territories on Tuesday.  The Canadian jets returned to base without incident once the Russian planes turned around.  The announcement comes on the eve of a visit by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to northern Canada to observe military exercises over the Arctic. 

    The Russian TU-95 Bear jet bombers flew within 30 miles (50 km.) of Canadian soil after having first been spotted nearly 120 nautical miles north of Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Canada has linked the Russian flights over the arctic and near Canadian airspace to competition between Canada, the United States, Russia, and others to secure arctic resources as polar ice caps melt and reveal new potential sources of oil, natural gas and minerals resources.

    A similar incident involving Russian bombers occurred last month off Canada’s east coast and again in February 2009.  In both cases, Canadian fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the Russian aircraft. Russian officials have repeatedly claimed that their planes never encroached on Canadian airspace. 

    Tags: Canada, Russia, Arctic, natural resources, Military exercises

  • Mapuche Protesters Take Over Radio Station in Chile

    August 24, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Indigenous community leaders on Monday staged a take-over of Santiago-based radio station Bío-Bío to protest the station’s failure to report on the hunger strike of 32 Mapuche activists. The protesters demanded that Radio Bío-Bío air an interview with a spokesperson for the prisoners, who began their hunger strike on July 12. The take-over occurred one week after internal government documents surfaced alleging links between Mapuche activists, the Chilean Communist Party, and Colombian guerrilla groups.

    Mapuche activists have consistently challenged the Chilean government’s purported militarization of the southern region of Araucanía, which is the ancestral homeland of 650,000 Mapuches. The strong police presence in the region, they claim, is exacerbated by what they believe are the exploitative practices of multinational logging and mining companies.

    Many of the jailed activists were arrested for illegal land occupations or attacks on the equipment or personnel of multinational companies, both of which are considered acts of terrorism under the  Pinochet-era Anti-Terrorism Law, No.19.027. The hunger strike is in direct protest of the law, which protesters say allows the state to hold people for up to two years without charges, restricts defense attorneys’ access to evidence, and use testimony from anonymous witnesses.

    Since Chile’s return to democracy in 1990, this law has been applied  to Mapuche activists. The Chilean government maintains that the law is not being applied unfairly, and that the acts of the terrorists, regardless of their ethnicity, must be tried to the fullest extent of the law.

    Tags: Chile, FARC, Sebastian Piñera, Hunger Strike, Mapuche, Anti-Terrorism, Araucania

  • FARC Looks to UNASUR to Facilitate Dialogue

    August 23, 2010

    by AQ Online

    The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) today published an open letter to the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (UNASUR) proposing that the multilateral organization begin mediating long-stalled talks between the FARC and the Colombian government. According to the letter, the FARC continues to desire a “political resolution to the conflict” and is “ready to explain during a UNASUR assembly, our vision of the Colombian conflict.”

    The letter is the FARC’s second public statement since the inauguration of Colombia’s new President Juan Manuel Santos, following a July 30 video message to Mr. Santos that proposed restarting direct talks.

    President Santos has not outright rejected the new overtures but has insisted that that any new talks must be "based on the unalterable premise that (the guerrillas) give up arms, kidnapping, extortion, drug trafficking, and intimidation".

    Tags: Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC)

  • Legislative Prospects for Immigration Reform: An Interview with Marshall Fitz

    August 19, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Despite political pronouncements from President Obama and key legislators early this year, immigration reform now seems to have slipped off of the Congressional agenda.  As part of an ongoing series of interviews on the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), I spoke with Marshall Fitz to explore the current context in the Beltway.  Mr Fitz is the Director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress and has been a key legislative strategist for the current Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) campaign. We discussed issues ranging from the congressional politics on immigration in 2007 and 2010, the communications challenges facing RIFA, and the significance of Latino voting patterns for the prospects of immigration reform.


    Altschuler: What have groups pressing for CIR learned from the last failed effort for immigration reform in 2007?


    Fitz:There was a very honest and earnest assessment of why the last go-around failed.   One of the central critiques from that assessment was: we weren’t strong enough politically. We had a lot of support in public opinion polling, but the support was broad and not deep, and we had a hard time contending with the very deep, intense, but narrow band of opposition to comprehensive reform.  That was a challenge that we’ve tried to address in a number of ways.

    On the communications front, we’ve done a lot of additional public opinion polling.  We’ve found the language that connects, language that meets the public where they are. Even when you set up the questions in the worst context, making the toughest arguments, you still get overwhelming support for a comprehensive solution, even by conservative voters.  And that is a function of the American public’s appetite for solving the problem, for making sure that people aren’t getting an undue benefit, but also putting everyone on an even playing field.  And doing it in a way that restores the rule of law, as opposed to continuing to perpetuate the dysfunction.  Those are central components to immigration reform, and they have been in the past, but we haven’t necessarily talked about them in the right way.  So that’s a communications challenge we have addressed.

    Altschuler: And how about on the legislative side?

    Fitz: Another critique of the 2007 failure was that trying to build a centrist legislative reform package meant that you needed a really strong, robust center that could be driven far enough forward that it would drag along the necessary votes.  But constructing the bill to hold the center meant that a lot of the groups on the Left were alienated because they thought that too much had been given up.  Frankly, it was a bill that no one loved—that was kind of the idea—but the core wasn’t strong enough in that center.

    In part, that was because John McCain had walked away from his collaboration with Senator Kennedy because of his presidential run.  Jon Kyl and the Bush White House stepped in the breach, and the bill moved strongly and sharply to the Right.  And yet, our strategy was built around this bi-partisan center, so we had to shift along with that move to the Right or walk away from the possibility of legalizing millions of people living in the shadows. Our willingness to bend and slide to the Right was premised on a promise that, if we did that, we would get 23 to 25 Republicans supporting the bill as we had in 2006.  And at the end of the day we only got 12, and the rest is history.

    So our central insight was that the groups driving the 2007 process from the Left were not strong enough to prevent that rightward tilt.  And the folks on the Right obviously weren’t delivering—they promised 25 votes and produced half that.  So there was a concerted effort to get stronger on the Left and ensure that labor was unified in their approach this go around.  In 2007, SEIU and UNITE HERE had been very strong and willing to keep moving the legislative process forward, but the AFL thought the bill was unsalvageable and opposed.  That rift, where the unions could be played off against each other in various Senate offices, really hurt our efforts to hold the center.  So one important take-away from this analysis was that a central goal of the next campaign had to be developing and maintaining labor unity and alignment with the campaign.

    Altschuler: Is there any chance now of progress on this issue before November or the end of the year?

    Fitz: The short answer is that we can take steps that lay the groundwork for comprehensive immigration reform soon.  A lot of people want to write CIR’s obituary, and I am not among them.  It’s way too premature. Now if the question they are asking is, “Is CIR going to pass in 2010?”, then I agree the answer is no.  But is there an opportunity to do something in September—maybe the DREAM Act or something that can generate more momentum, things that we can do non-legislatively that can continue to build the energy and momentum for a play in early 2011 or some additional pieces in a lame-duck session?  I don’t write off any of those possibilities.  And, as a campaign, we are strongly supportive of DREAM and AgJobs moving—they would help set the stage for comprehensive immigration reform in early 2011. The goal of the campaign remains to solve the current immigration crisis, and the solution is only going to be realized through a broad, comprehensive legislative overhaul.


    Altschuler: How important are get-out-the-vote efforts in Latino communities in 2010?  Can they push legislators to move faster on CIR?

    Fitz: I think there are a couple possibilities.  One is strong Latino voter turnout in 2010 that shows that 2008 wasn’t a flash in the pan, but rather that there’s a building crescendo of Latino electoral clout.  In races where immigration gets teed up as an important issue, looking at Latino voting patterns in those races will be very interesting and important.  Because one thing is clear: the Latino electorate is absolutely incensed with the way that this debate has been carried out.  Immigration has never been their top issue.  They’re like the rest of Americans; their top issues are the economy and jobs and health care and education.  But it has become a litmus test issue because of the demonization.  It doesn’t mean that they’re going to vote for someone who’s against them on every other issue just because of immigration, but I think the Republican brand is on the verge of being irreparably tarnished.

    This could be where the Republicans were in 1962, when they were still very much vying for the black vote.  Their retrenchment and opposition to the civil rights movement effectively lost them the black vote ever since.  They’re flirting dangerously close to that dynamic.  And, if that were to happen, given what’s happened with the minority vote and given the demographic trajectory of the Latino electorate, there will be no way for the Republicans to win the White House again.  So I think that’s made them enormously concerned.  I know that a number of the possible GOP presidential contenders, like Mitt Romney and others, would be extraordinarily happy to have this issue off the table.  That’s a reason that the dynamics could change in the first few months [of 2011].  And that desire will be strengthened if there is another strong expression of Latino voting power in November.

    On the other hand, the Latinos are justifiably frustrated that there hasn’t been any progress on this issue—an issue that they see as having been promised by the President as one that would be taken up during this first session.  Latino disappointment with the lack of positive movement on this issue could translate into ambivalence in November. That, in turn, could diminish the sense of urgency some Republicans might have to get this issue off the table and could make it harder to get bipartisan movement early in 2011.

    Altschuler: Last time, the push for CIR began in the Senate.  Would this still be true for this next round?

    Fitz: Here’s what happened.  In 2005, we anticipated that the Senate was going to move first.  Then, there were two Supreme Court vacancies that consumed the Judiciary Committee and postponed all consideration of everything else.

    During that pause in Senate action, Representatives Sensenbrenner and King put together a piece of legislation, HR 4437, that they passed in December—that was enforcement only, that was vicious, made felons out of everyone, and so on.  So the House actually acted first.  And the Senate responded with a historic immigration mark-up that passed under Chairman Specter’s direction.  It got a bi-partisan vote out of the Judiciary Committee, went to the Floor, and the vote on the floor ended up being 62-37, I think.  So, you had an extreme House measure passed out of the Republican-controlled House, and then you had a very solid bi-partisan compromise comprehensive bill pass out of the Senate.  And, of course, they couldn’t conference them, and frankly no one wanted to.

    Then both chambers flipped in 2006.  The question was: were we going to go back to the House, where they’d produced this horrendous, heinous bill, albeit under the auspices of the deposed Republican leadership?  Or the Senate, where newly installed Senate Majority Leader Reid was totally committed to going forward on it and made it one of the first ten bills that were going to be introduced.  In the Senate, it was like, “We just did this nine months ago.  With Ted Kennedy and John McCain leading the charge, we can do it again.”  And it obviously imploded.

    This time, we would’ve been happy to go House first.  But the House felt like it had already taken so many hard votes, and the Senate hadn’t proved that it could pass the legislation that the House had passed—the Energy Bill being a case in point.  Speaker Pelosi was very clear that she was waiting on Harry Reid to send them a bill.

    So the question in the next Congress will be: what does the make-up of the two chambers look like?  I think everyone believes that there will be significant losses in the House, which could possibly flip—and, if it doesn’t, the margins could be pretty thin.  That may militate in favor of the Senate going first once again, but we’ll have to see what the composition of the Senate looks like, too.

    Altschuler: Most voters in the upcoming elections will be primarily concerned with economic issues.  Can RIFA win the economic argument around immigration on Capitol Hill?

    Fitz: I think we’ve done a fairly good job.  We have had very strong economic messages, like the report that CAP put out with the Immigration Policy Center on the economic benefits of comprehensive reform versus trying to remove 11 or 12 million people.  It’s a $4 trillion dollar swing in cumulative GDP over 10 years.  And that report has gotten enormous citation, and it’s widely credited with bringing home the point that had been made in other studies—that immigration is a net benefit to the country.

    The most fundamental and emotional question in the national debate is what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country. To me, there’s no economic argument there.  Legalizing that population is an unequivocal benefit to the economy and to similarly situated economic workers.  And they’re already here and working.  So, it’s not that you’re talking about new people coming in and taking jobs.  The question becomes one of alternatives: are you really going to try to remove all those workers, or do you want to make them legal taxpayers and help the economy get growing again and create jobs?   I haven’t felt like we’ve been losing the argument.  In fact, I think that there are good arguments for why this is a better economic climate for a lot of politicians who might not want to engage this debate to carry it out now.  Because there are less people coming in.  We’d been talking five years ago about 400,000 to 600,000 new temporary workers coming in every year, and we’re not having that conversation now.

    Altschuler: A lot of people have made this economic argument, including groups like the Chamber of Commerce and other pro-CIR business groups.  Are there any prospects for collaboration between the groups that you’re working with and the more Conservative groups on this?

    Fitz: The interesting thing is that, when we did that report with the Immigration Policy Center, the Cato Institute had previously come out with a report that reached very similar conclusions and numbers.  So we had Cato economists on our panels talking about this issue with CAP’s economists.  They went up to the Hill and did briefings, we had a very successful roll-out here, they’ve done some things elsewhere around the country.  So, we really are trying to pair up with some conservative economists and think tanks given the common story we have to tell.  The Chamber has been a group that we’ve long collaborated with, and we’ve continued to develop our relations with the Chamber.  They’ve just been so deeply immersed in these other fights that getting them to pay attention has been challenging, especially when their members are not struggling to get new workers.

    Altschuler: A recent piece in The American Prospect criticized progressive CIR advocates for compromising too much to a conservative security and “rule of law” agenda to get comprehensive immigration reform passed. How do you respond to this critique?

    Fitz: I think it was very misguided and frustrating. What it misses is where the debate actually is and where it has gone.  A lot of the focus has been on the language, rather than the substance.  And the substance hasn’t shifted with the language—the focus of the current efforts that were underway with Graham and Schumer and where we were headed was towards a broader, more robust, and unprecedented legalization.  One that was more generous than the McCain-Kennedy language, even.  And that was because of a recognition that you’ve really got to clear the decks and have as broad a legalization as possible if you’re going to correct the system.  If you’re just going to do half, then you’ve cut into the problem, but you haven’t solved it.

    But the language—that’s what I was talking about at the beginning of our discussion, about learning how to talk about this issue and communicate in a way that connects with the American public where they are.  For example, the American public may not be put off by the phrase ‘illegal immigrant’ at all—that’s just the colloquial term they understand.  And when they see you talking about ‘undocumented immigrants’—and I still do, because I think it’s more accurate—that’s kind of like a cue word for, “Oh, he just wants amnesty.”  Because that’s the way that the other side has painted it.  But, in fact, if you just talk about it in a way that meets them where they are, but also talk about what a real, practical solution is, then you actually get to a better policy place.  You haven’t moved to the right in terms of enforcement policy and support for the rule of law.

    And frankly, was the Left ever against the rule of law? The whole point of this exercise is to end illegal immigration as we know it and to restore the rule of law.  And certainly enforcement is a part of that.  The problem is when you continue to enforce the law on top of a broken system that doesn’t match current economic and social realities, you end up with a whole lot of hardship.  But, do we really not expect to be enforcing the law?  We certainly support enforcement, but we also support a rational system.

    Altschuler: Given the push for enforcement in the last few months, there’s been a lot of civil disobedience.  Is the RIFA campaign united on this?  Are there differences of opinion between groups in the coalition about taking a confrontational, grassroots approach to the administration?

    Fitz: Yes, I think there are.  It’s more about where the individual institutions are, I think.  And where individuals are.  I think that people experience different realities, and, because they experience a different reality, they’re going to have a different response to it.  A lot of the people who are service providers in the field and deal with these populations and deal with the stories of ten more people being put into proceedings, another family torn apart—all they see is the administration tearing their communities apart.  They might understand intellectually that there’s more going on—that the process is painfully complex and slow—but what they know is that families continue to be torn apart.  And so their response is calibrated to that reality.

    But, as policy folks working in DC, we understand how difficult it is to get anything passed on the Hill and how, if the Obama administration stopped enforcing the law, there would be zero prospect of ever getting immigration reform that constructively deals with the undocumented population during his tenure as president.  So we weigh those things against each other.  But it doesn’t mean that we’re not equally impacted by the continuing enforcement.   We don’t see it as just par for the course.  So we’ve been really pressing them (Obama and DHS) to change their focus and change their priorities.

    And I think they’ve actually done a pretty good job of trying to do that. It’s a slow process, but I think we are actually seeing the fruits of that effort. They’re deporting more people, but they are also deporting far more people who’ve had criminal convictions than under the prior administration.  So they’re really zeroing in on not just busboys who are trying to work, but on people who have committed crimes, and really prioritizing people who’ve committed serious crimes.  Right now, they’re at about fifty-fifty, and that reflects a very substantial shift.

    On the other hand, there’s still the other 50 percent—and that’s another 125,000 or 150,000 people or so this year—and they’ve got families, and they’re part of communities and part of companies.  And it’s enormously painful—not to mention de-stabilizing.  So we really get it. And that’s the really sad part of this effort; that’s what keeps us going to work every day, despite the challenging conditions.

    *Daniel Altschuler is a contributing blogger to and a doctoral candidate in Politics and Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. His research focuses on civic and political participation in Honduras and Guatemala.


  • New Data on Children of Undocumented Immigrants as U.S. Increases Border Patrol

    August 19, 2010

    by AQ Online

    A new analysis of U.S. Census data by the Pew Hispanic Center reports that while undocumented immigrants make up approximately four percent of the adult population in the U.S., their children represent eight percent of the newborn population and seven percent of the child population (younger than age 18). Factors explaining the difference include the relative young age of immigrants and their greater likelihood of having large families.

    The report comes amid growing calls by conservative lawmakers in Washington to consider repeal of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which endows citizenship to anyone born in the U.S. The debate began in early August following comments made by Senator Lindsay Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, who told Fox News that the amendment no longer serves its original purpose and should be re-examined. He and other politicians argue that fewer people would cross the border if they no longer had the incentive of giving birth to U.S. citizens.

    The report also arrives as 224 U.S. National Guard troops prepare to deploy along California’s southern border on September 1. The troops will assist with counter-narcotics, anti-illegal immigration and other border security operations.

    Tags: Border patrol, Immigration Reform, Undocumented immigrants, U.S. Census

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    August 18, 2010

    by AS-COA Online

    From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Colombian Court Freezes U.S. Base Deal

    Semana reports on the Colombian Constitutional Court’s decision to suspend a pact with Washington that allowed U.S. access to Colombian military bases for counternarcotics and anti-terrorism operations. The Court questioned the constitutional legality of the manner in which the deal was passed and is now requiring President Juan Manuel Santos to gain congressional approval. The military accord, negotiated in 2009 between the Obama administration and Santos’ predecessor Álvaro Uribe, has been a source of debate in South America and a sore subject for some of Colombia’s neighbors, particularly Venezuela.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia, United Stattes, Military Base, Rousseff, LAN Chile

  • Los cocaleros: la novia de Evo

    August 18, 2010

    by Cecilia Lanza

    Hay mujeres de esas que se pegan como chicle. A veces son mujeres obsesionadas que buscan a su presa sin parar, esperando en vano un amor recíproco. Otras veces el asunto es consentido. Ambos se quieren así, colados el uno al otro. Y otras veces, casi sin darse cuenta, sus espacios se confunden de tal manera que ya no saben si son uno o el otro y terminan así, colados.

    El Presidente Evo Morales no tiene novia. Pero tiene un capricho. Desde que en los años 1980 llegó al Chapare, en el trópico de Cochabamba, se enamoró del movimiento cocalero. Como todo amor de juventud, el suyo fue un enamoramiento apasionado y genuino. Pero además, aderezado con lucha política en defensa del valor cultural de la hoja de coca, el suyo fue un amor radical, incondicional.

    Dos décadas después, Evo Morales llegó al gobierno gracias al movimiento cocalero que arrastró, por identificación étnica y de clase, al resto de los indígenas, campesinos y excluidos del país. Un amor así, apasionado, compañero de luchas y cárceles, no podía sino ser un amor cómplice. Evo Morales, aún siendo ya Presidente del país, nunca dejó de ser el máximo dirigente de las seis federaciones de productores de hoja de coca del Chapare. Y es que el soporte político de Morales son los cocaleros del Chapare, su novia incondicional.

    Veinte años de noviazgo y cuatro en el poder, hicieron de aquélla una relación de interés mutuo. Evo necesita a los cocaleros como sustento político y ellos necesitan a Evo como padrino que proteja sus intereses cocaleros. Evo saca a la DEA (control antinarcóticos estadounidense) del Chapare y el resultado es el abuso. El narcotráfico en Bolivia se ha multiplicado y ese no es ningún secreto para nadie. Pero Evo lo niega.  Evo ya no distingue los límites. Evo no quiere ver que su novia se ha corrompido y abusa. Evo se lo permite porque la necesita ahora más que nunca, ahora que los indígenas del país se han empoderado y son cada vez más capaces de enfrentarlo y, acaso, de disputarle el poder.

    Read More

    Tags: Evo Morales, DEA.Movimiento al Socialismo

  • U.S.-Colombia Pact Ruled Unconstitutional

    August 18, 2010

    by AQ Online

    An agreement between the U.S. and Colombian government, which allows the U.S. military access to and use of at least seven military bases in Colombia has been ruled unconstitutional in a 6-3 decision by Colombia’s constitutional court. The court ordered the government to submit the agreement to the Colombian congress for ratification as an international treaty subject to congressional approval to comply with constitutional rules. 

    The ruling comes after a group of lawyers filed in March 2010 a complaint with the court arguing against its validity based on the fact that it was approved by the government of former President Álvaro Uribe without the consent of Congress.  The Uribe administration had countered the accusations by calling these accords an extension of a 1974 military pact and not a new pact.  It also increased tensions between Colombia and neighbors Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia who were all highly critical of the pact fearing a shift in the balance of power of the region.

    The court’s decision does not affect the use of bases permitted by previous agreements and any U.S. personnel at the seven bases in question may be transferred to those bases while the government decides whether or not to send the latest accords to Congress for approval.

    Tags: Alvaro Uribe, U.S. military bases in Latin America, US Colombia Military Pact, Treaty

  • In Mexico, Corporations May Be Better Poised to Address Social Concerns

    August 17, 2010

    by Arjan Shahani

    According to Keynesian economics, the state (and specifically government) was created to step in, regulate and control market abuses. The idea was that laissez faire gave profit-seekers the power to sidetrack certain aspects of organized societal living, such as fair distribution of wealth, worker conditions and education so government involvement was necessary to tame the private enterprise beast.

    Ironically enough, today in Mexico (and one could argue the world), large companies are making it part of their business strategy to get involved and address those problems in which government has faltered. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is becoming much more efficient than state action and the past 15 to 20 years have seen visionary companies embrace this concept, creating a partnership and bonds with communities that politicians have never been able to nurture.

    Large companies like Banamex, Bimbo, CEMEX, Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma, FEMSA, and even Telmex have been setting up ambitious projects and foundations to promote development, alleviate poverty and improve health and welfare. They are also finding a business logic to self-regulation and obtaining efficiencies in their processes that deal with carbon emissions and use of natural resources.

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico

  • France Refuses to Pay Back Haiti’s “Independence Debt”

    August 17, 2010

    by AQ Online

    The French foreign ministry announced on Monday that it will not comply with a request to return $22 billion that Haiti was forced to pay France in exchange for its independence in 1804. The request was published as an open letter to President Nicolas Sarkozy in the French daily Libération. Its signatories, including Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano, Cornel West and Naomi Klein, called the debt “illegitimate” and “illegal.”

    The Foreign Ministry defended its decision, arguing that France has already cancelled $72 million of Haiti’s debt. This is in addition to the $418 million it has committed to the recovery effort following the January 12 earthquake. However, the international relief aid pledged by nations like France and the United States has been dreadfully slow to arrive. Eight months after the disaster, only 10 percent of aid announced at the international donor’s conference in March has been delivered.

    According to the 90 academics, politicians and writers who signed the open letter, if the $22 billion “independence debt” was returned to Haiti, it could fill the current aid gap, stimulate the reconstruction effort and put pressure on the international community to deliver the money that was promised.

    Tags: Haiti, France, Debt, Earthquake

  • Organizing for Immigration Reform: An Interview with Deepak Bhargava

    August 17, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    As part of a series of interviews on the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform, I recently spoke with Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of the Center for Community Change (CCC). (Disclosure: I worked as a consultant for CCC on a different issue in 2008.) CCC has been a core group in the movement for comprehensive immigration reform over the past several years, playing a central role in the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) through 2007 and the current Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) campaign. Mr. Bhargava sits on RIFA’s management team, and he spoke with me on issues ranging from the prospects for reform this year, the potential impact of Latino voters and grassroots mobilizations, and the challenges facing progressive groups in the wake of Arizona’s controversial immigration law and in the run-up to the mid-term elections.

    Altschuler: How did you first get involved with the movement for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR)?


    Bhargava: I was there pretty much at the beginning, around 1998-1999. In that period, a group of immigrant leaders approached me and the Center for Community Change with the idea of doing a national campaign to win legalization for the growing population of undocumented people in the US. At that time, the topic was unspeakable in polite Washington conversation discourse—no politician, no national advocacy organization would tackle it. Partly because of the extraordinary quality

    Read More

    Tags: Immigration

  • New Poll Reveals Tie Eight Months Ahead of Peru’s Presidential Election

    August 16, 2010

    by AQ Online

    A survey conducted by Ipsos Apoyo Opinion y Mercado, commissioned by Peru’s El Comercio, revealed today that Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori and Lima Mayor Luis Castañeda Lossio are tied at 20 percent of voter approval for Peru’s presidential election. Voters will go to the polls on April 10, 2011.

    Castañeda is neck-in-neck with Fujimori despite him not yet officially declaring his candidacy. Meanwhile, Fujimori is often seen on the campaign trail.

    Following the two front-runners are former President Alejandro Toledo (14 percent support) and Ollanta Humala (12 percent), who lost to President Alan García in a run-off election in  2006.

    The poll also revealed that 50 percent of people support the investigation of Attorney General Gladys Echaiz to find out if Keiko and her brothers funded their U.S. university expenditures with state money. But 38 percent believe that the objective of the investigation is to discredit her.

    Tags: Peru, Keiko Fujimori, Luis Castañeda Lossio

  • Protests Shut Down Bolivian Mining Town

    August 12, 2010

    by AQ Online

    A mountain once infamous for trapping miners is today becoming famous for trapping tourists. Anti-government protesters have blocked roads, rail and air routes out of Potosí, Bolivia, leaving over 100 foreign tourists stranded, food supplies dwindling and tempers flaring. Operations at the San Cristóbal mine were halted Thursday, following protesters’ Tuesday takeover of the hydroelectric plant that powers it. The San Cristóbal mine is one of the world’s largest producers of silver and zinc. Its shutdown will cost Japanese owner Sumitomo Corp. an estimated two million dollars a day in lost export revenue. The output at other mines has also been disrupted.

    Residents, miners and peasants from Potosí have been on strike and engaged in anti-government protest for the past two weeks. Some are on hunger strike, including provincial governor Félix González. They are demanding that President Morales commit greater investment to their region, particularly in the way of airport expansion, road construction, and creation of a cement factory. They also demand that the government resolve a boundary dispute with neighboring Oruro province over a limestone deposit.

    Presidential spokesman Iván Canelas has said the government will not use force to break the blockade around Potosí, insisting that a solution will be reached instead through dialogue. The United Nations has issued a call for such dialogue to take place immediately, warning that the blockade and strike are causing “grave and massive human rights violations.”

    Tags: Bolivia, mining, Potosi

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    August 11, 2010

    by AS-COA Online

    From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Uribe out, Santos in, Chávez Back

    Speaking before his country, outgoing-Colombian President Álvaro Uribe bid farewell after eight years in office, apologizing for his administration’s mistakes and urging Colombians to defend their freedoms and support incoming President Juan Manuel Santos. Upon assuming office on August 7, Santos began efforts to restore ties with Venezuela, sent into a tail spin after the Uribe administration accused Caracas of harboring FARC rebel camps within its territory. Meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez three days into his presidency, Santos and his counterpart agreed to restore bilateral ties, improve military patrols along the border, and initiate a joint security commission to help monitor terrorist groups.

    Read More

    Tags: Arizona, Castro, Gay Marriage, Colombian Exports

  • Former Mexican President Supports Drug Legalization

    August 11, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Vicente Fox, Mexico’s president from 2000 to 2006, recently announced his support for the legalization of marijuana and criticized the use of the Mexican Army to support local police forces as they attempt to clamp down on drug cartels in the country.   President Fox’s views on drugs and Mexico’s continuing war on drugs were posted on his personal blog.

    His comments come just days after President Felipe Calderón hosted a security conference at Los Pinos, the presidential residence, in which Calderón indicated that he did not support legalization but understood that such a move would “significantly reduce criminals’ cash flow.”  Fox echoed those remarks by noting that legalization was “a strategy to weaken and break the economic system that allows cartels to earn huge profits.” 

    The former president’s comments add to the growing number of voices in Latin America calling for a change of strategy in dealing with the scourge of the drug trade.  Last year, three former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, César Gaviria of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico endorsed a change in the approach currently taken to stemming the flow of drugs.

    President Calderón supports continued debate on legalization, but is personally against such legislation. 

    Tags: Mexico, Felipe Calderon, Legalizing Marijuana, Drug Policy, Vicente Fox

  • Wycelf Jean Defends Presidential Bid

    August 10, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Musician-turned-politician Wycelf Jean lashed out at Sean Penn on Monday, defending his qualifications as a presidential candidate and his role in the aftermath of the January 12 earthquake. Shortly after Jean registered his bid, Penn said in an interview with CNN that “For those of us in Haiti, [Jean] has been a non-presence,” and called into question Jean’s financial management as chairman of Yéle Haiti.

    In a series of interviews, Jean defended his charity, claiming that it has raised $9 million since the earthquake, and played an instrumental role in decreasing violence following the ouster of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. The Haitian-born artist the also characterized himself as a crucial liaison between the Haitian people and the 600,000 Haitians living in the United States. AQ interviewed Jean on his role in Haiti prior to the earthquake in the Spring 2009 issue on the environment.

    The public row with Sean Penn raised several questions about Jean’s political credentials, his chairmanship of Yéle Haiti, and even his legal eligibility as a presidential candidate. However, the publicity that has resulted from the back-and-forth could ultimately prove beneficial to Jean’s campaign by raising his profile as a politician, especially among the Diaspora. The final list of candidates will be announced on August 17, three months before the national elections on November 26.

    Tags: Haiti, Wyclef Jean, Haitian President

  • Promesas y retos de la era Santos

    August 10, 2010

    by Jenny Manrique

    Muchas cosas pasaron el sábado por primera vez en el cambio de mando presidencial en Colombia. Es la primera vez que un presidente se posesiona ante unas tribus indígenas: En la mañana el electo mandatario Juan Manuel Santos fue investido en una ceremonia espiritual en un territorio llamado Seyzhua, tierra sagrada para cuatro pueblos indígenas asentados en la norteña Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta: Los kogui, los wiwas, los kamkuamo y los arhuaco. Los aborígenes le entregaron un bastón de mando y cuatro "Tumas", piedras sagradas que representan el mar, la tierra, el agua y la comida, al tiempo que lo comprometieron con la defensa de sus etnias y del medio ambiente.

    Es la primera vez también que se pone una alfombra roja en la Plaza de Bolívar, al frente del Capitolio Nacional y que se invita al presidente saliente a estar en la ceremonia de asunción pues éste generalmente espera a su sucesor en la Casa de Nariño, donde se da el relevo. Semejante reconocimiento al ex mandatario Álvaro Uribe fue potenciado por espacio de unos minutos en los discursos que dio tanto Santos, como el presidente del Senado, Armando Benedetti, quien fue el encargado de poner la banda presidencial. “Quiero hacer un homenaje desde el fondo de mi corazón a un hombre que brillará en la historia como aquel que devolvió la esperanza al país, un colombiano genial e irrepetible”, dijo el primero. “Los colombianos han sido seducidos por el nivel de compromiso que Uribe asumió. No hay caso así en Latinoamérica. Uribe es un fenómeno universal de opinión política literalmente irrepetible”, sostuvo el segundo, quien no obstante le advirtió a Santos que “sentirá el rigor y el riesgo de parecer distinto al carisma arrollador de Uribe, pero no hay clones en política”.

    Cinco mil personas invitadas, entre las que se encontraban 15 jefes de Estado, rompieron en vítores ante lo que Uribe se puso de pie y agradeció. La reverencia al mandatario que deja el poder después de ochos años, no podría ser de otra forma: Juan Manuel heredó directamente su capital político y sus votos, pues nunca antes había aspirado a un cargo de elección popular. No obstante en los discursos que dieron comienzo a la era Santos, en medio del sol y la lluvia de una Bogotá vigilada por 22 mil hombres, las promesas no fueron más que el sinónimo de los fracasos del gobierno Uribe.

    Read More

    Tags: Alvaro Uribe, Juan Manuel Santos, Rafael Correa, Néstor Kirchner, Nicolás Maduro, Armando Benedetti

  • Costa Rica’s Open-Pit Gold Mine

    August 9, 2010

    by Alex Leff

    Opponents of open-pit mining in Costa Rica have been delivered yet another blow. After their hopes had risen that recently elected President Laura Chinchilla would strike down any attempt to dig here, the Chinchilla administration refused to repeal an executive decree issued by her predecessor, Óscar Arias, green-lighting a gold mine project near the border with Nicaragua.

    The Crucitas gold mine has caused contention for years. Environmentalists claim that the mine would cause serious harm to the land and to families in surrounding villages if it goes forward. Nicaraguan authorities are also up in arms over the possible danger an open-pit mine near its Rio San Juan could cause. Concerns focus not only on clearing forest but also on the use of cyanide in open-pit mining. Environmentalists have said that a cyanide spill would cause irreversible harm.

    But then President Arias surprised the country’s fervent environmental community and neighbors by decreeing in October 2008 that the Crucitas mine is of national interest.

    The project went forward, chopping down trees that conservationists note are vital to endangered species such as the great green macaw. Then a high court halted the project while it mulled over complaints. The project remains at a standstill, tied up in courts amid a pile of environmentalists’ legal action.

    Read More

    Tags: Oscar Arias, Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla

  • Chávez to Meet with Colombia’s New President

    August 9, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin announced that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will meet in Colombia with newly inaugurated President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday to discuss their countries' diplomatic and trade relations.

    Chávez expressed hopes of restoring the neighbors’ ties. “We have much hope that the new government will begin to construct all that Uribe's government destroyed.” Mr. Chávez severed ties with Colombia in July after accusations were brought forward by then President Uribe that Venezuela is giving refuge to Colombian guerrillas.

    In his efforts to show some support for Santos, Mr. Chávez announced on his weekly radio and television show, “Just as one proposes that Colombia's government seek the path to peace, the guerrillas also must do it.”

    Tags: Alvaro Uribe, Hugo Chavez, Juan Manuel Santos

  • El legado de Uribe

    August 6, 2010

    by Jenny Manrique

    A pocas horas de que el mandatario que por más años ha estado en el poder en Colombia deje finalmente el palacio presidencial, vale la pena hacer una retrospectiva sobre lo que hereda su sucesor Juan Manuel Santos. Aunque el recién elegido presidente llegó al poder gracias a la maquinaria del Partido de la U, que valga recordar se nombró precisamente en honor al apellido de Uribe, Santos ha marcado ciertas distancias por lo menos en lo que a sus primeros nombramientos se refiere. Su gabinete de ministros parece por ahora tecnócrata y competente aunque aún le quedan muchos puestos por repartir en el Estado. En el sistema presidencial colombiano, la falta de leyes claras sobre meritocracia, hace que el habitante de la casa de Nariño nombre a dedo cientos de puestos. Con ello, puede pagar cientos de favores políticos y cuotas burocráticas.

    Por ahora como toda luna de miel de los nuevos gobiernos, Santos mantiene una popularidad del 75 por ciento según una encuesta de Invamer Gallup, la misma con la que se va Uribe a pesar del desgaste de dos periodos de gobierno. Lo que logró el mandatario saliente fue que un país tradicionalmente conservador y católico, girara aún más a la derecha y se convirtiera en uribista profeso gracias al miedo que, estratégicamente, Uribe logró manejar a su favor: el miedo a que la guerrilla se tomara el poder y convirtiera en Estado fallido al país. Un miedo no infundado que tuvo un poderoso impulsor en los gobiernos precedentes: el de Ernesto Samper (1994-1998) infiltrado a más no poder por el narcotráfico y el de Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002) quien con el ánimo de conseguir la paz, abrió los diálogos con la guerrilla y les entregó una zona de distensión en la que no hicieron otra cosa que fortalecerse militarmente.

    Semejante terreno casi árido de gobernabilidad, permitió prontamente que Uribe, quien llegó al poder por primera vez en la disidencia de un partido tradicional, el Liberal, y quien se inscribió como independiente con un millón de firmas, sedujera con su estilo proselitista tradicional en plena era cibernética: Uribe volvió a los pueblos más remotos usando carriel y poncho y aquel lema de trabajar, trabajar y trabajar fue pronto un hecho del que no se salvaron ni siquiera los domingos. Los famosos consejos comunales televisados—que superaron los 300 durante su gobierno—similares a los que aún hace el presidente Hugo Chávez en Aló Presidente, permitieron que ejerciera un gobierno en permanente campaña.

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    Tags: Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, Juan Manuel Santos, 2010 Colombia elections, Colombia politics

  • Why American Democracy is Alive and Well

    August 6, 2010

    by John Parisella

    Just recently, I listened to a PBS documentary entitled Looking for Lincoln. It was very revealing to witness how America evolved from the time of slavery to the race relations of today. We observed how a constitution is a living document and how leaders and moments of leadership can converge to advance a society and reinforce a nation’s character.

    In democratic nations, we benefit from differences and divergent views. Whether living under the principles of the U.S. Constitution or a parliamentary system like in Canada, we grow stronger from the heated moments of passion to the cool resolution of an issue. In recent months, political debate has heated up and some have gone so far as to question the health of the American political system.

    Americans will soon begin the final stretch of the mid-term electoral season. As I recently discussed in other posts, political observers, pundits and partisan operatives have been weighing in about the polarization of U.S. politics, the ideological divide, the strong anti-incumbent sentiment, and how “dysfunctional” the system is.

    To an outsider listening in, you would think that American democracy is in its death throes. But, as a Quebecer living in New York, my take is that the last few weeks have shown quite the opposite. The debates remain as lively as ever, but very much in conformity with the values of the American political system and its constitutional precepts.

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    Tags: United States, Canada-U.S. relations

  • Aging Boats Compromise Canada’s Navy

    August 6, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Canada’s naval prowess may soon be undermined by its aging oil tanker supply ships, compromising its maritime ability to act independently around the world, a report released yesterday in Ottawa warns. According to the leaked document, the 40-year-old ships could be barred from both European and American ports by 2015 due to their outdated, single-hull design, which violates standards adopted to prevent major oil spills.

    Without being able to send out supply ships, Canada will not be able maintain an independent navy, says Ken Bowering, a retired navy commander: “The support ships, the tankers, provide that ability to stay at sea for extended periods with fuel, with spare parts, food, ammunition.”

    Canadian naval capabilities have come under growing scrutiny in recent years as the naval forces of Russia and northern European shipping fleets have increased their Arctic presence in anticipation of global warming. In July, prior to the public release of yesterday’s report, the Conservative government in Canada announced in that it will spend $2.6 billion to replace the navy’s two auxiliary oil replenishment vessels.

    Tags: Canada, Environment, Arctic, Military and defense spending

  • "Fantastic" Mercosur Summit Ends in Landmark Agreements

    August 5, 2010

    by AQ Online

    South America’s Mercosur trade bloc on Tuesday concluded in San Juan, Argentina what Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva called “the best summit” in 15 years. After six years of negotiations, Mercosur members Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay finally reached consensus on the distribution of customs revenue and the elimination of double taxation on goods imported by member countries. The agreement will expedite and reduce the cost of commerce across South America and effectively establishes Mercosur as a customs union capable of negotiating with third parties.

    In addition to progress on the Common Customs Code, Mercosur members agreed on a plan to grant commercial benefits to Haiti and to protect the Guaraní aquifer, one of the world’s largest drinking water reservoirs. Perhaps most notably, the bloc also signed a free trade agreement with Egypt, which is expected to open a market of 76 million consumers to primary and industrialized products from Mercosur countries, including pharmaceutical, automotive and agricultural goods.

    Ahead of the summit, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro had sought Mercosur support for his country’s requests for membership in the bloc, which are opposed by Colombia. The response by Mr. da Silva and other leaders that Venezuela should not seek to resolve a bilateral issue at a multilateral trade summit resulted in President Chávez’s decision not to attend the meetings.

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    Tags: trade, Venezuela, Mercosur



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